Imagine you had thirty seconds left to live. The scent of fresh-cut flowers tries in vain to mask the chemical smell of the hospital room. Your friends and family surround your bed, listening eagerly to hear what you’ll use your last bit of strength to say. What would it be?
I’m not sure what I would say. I like to think that I would come up with something brilliant and witty. In truth, I would probably blurt out something mushy and sentimental. Some people have said some pretty interesting things in that situation, though. Wikiquote has a good compilation of real last words. Here are a few of my favourites:
- I’m going away tonight. (James Brown)
- I should never have switched from scotch to martinis. (Humphrey Bogart)
- That was a great game of golf, fellers. (Bing Crosby)
- It’s very beautiful over there. (Thomas Edison)
- Love one another. (George Harrison)
There’s a story that Jerome, the Bible translator, told about the Apostle John. Apparently, when he was too old to string together coherent sentences, he kept mumbling the words that Harrison echoed about 19 centuries years later: “brothers and sisters, love each other” (Jerome, “Comm. in ep. ad. Gal.”, vi, 10).
I don’t know whether Jerome’s story about John is true, but it sure seems to fit with his character. Read through 1 John (it’s only 5 chapters). Listen to how the aged apostle refers to the churches in his care:
- Beloved [agapētoi]
- Brothers [adelphoi]
- Children [teknia or paidia]
It’s clear that this short work comes from the pen of an old man who loved his fellow believers as deeply as his own kids. It’s the sort of attitude he urges us to follow.
Love each other. This is Christianity at its most potent level. Jesus called it the mark of a believer: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
What about love for God, you might ask? These three words include love for God. It’s too easy to say that we love God, while just being enamoured by the abstraction of that ethereal relationship. When we love each other, we demonstrate our love for God. You can’t love a unique person in the abstract. For John, love was a very real thing: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help” (1 John 3:17, NRSV)?
For this series of meditations, I’m going to assume that John the Apostle wrote 1 John. Although the book is formally anonymous, the work bears so many similarities to the Gospel of John that if the Apostle John wasn’t the author, it was someone schooled deeply in his thought.
1 John is sometimes called a book and other times called a letter. More accurately, it is a circular—a sort of tract that made its way throughout a number of churches. Unlike 2 John, 3 John, and many of Paul’s letters, 1 John doesn’t have the standard opening that other first century letters did. This work was intended to circulate widely—something it’s still doing today.
Let me encourage you to take this journey with me through the “letters” of John. I have no set divisions to follow. Every week I’ll tackle as much of the text as I feel like without rushing. I don’t know how long it will take to get through, but it shouldn’t take the 2 1/2 years we spent in Ezekiel!
If you’re reading this, feel free to interact in the comments. I’ve left them open so we can learn from each other.